DETROIT -- The Crest Automotive Group, owned by a Ford family in-law, has acquired the 50-year-old Bob Thibodeau Ford dealership in the Detroit suburb of Center Line, Mich.
Driving the deal is the loss of the Mercury franchise tied to the Lincoln dealership that Crest owns nearby in Sterling Heights, said Bill Chope, vice president of the dealership group.
The deal follows Ford's ongoing U.S. dealer consolidation strategy -- and its entrance in the Detroit market.
And with the decision by Ford Motor Co. to eliminate the Mercury brand, many dealers have expected that some Mercury drivers will move up to Lincolns and some down to Ford-branded vehicles.
“This was a strategic addition,” Chope said. “We sold 800 Mercury vehicles last year, so it makes sense to have a Ford store nearby. We saw this opportunity four miles to the south.”
The acquisition by Crest Automotive Group brings its portfolio to four dealerships, including Crest Volvo Hyundai in Macomb Township and Crest Ford in Flat Rock. Harper Woods-based Crest Automotive was created 18 years ago and is owned by Paul Alandt. Alandt is married to Lynn Alandt, a great-granddaughter of Henry Ford and cousin of Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford.
A 'wonderful' opportunity
Bob Thibodeau Jr., 56, said the deal made sense because his two daughters are not interested in taking on the business that Thibodeau's father started 50 years ago.
“It came down to a business decision,” he said. “It turns out to be a wonderful opportunity for Crest and for myself.”
Thibodeau, who was chairman of the North American International Auto Show in 2007, has run the dealership since 1990.
The store was founded by his father in Warren in 1961 and moved to Center Line in 1964. Bob Thibodeau Sr. was involved in the auto show in its early days, acting as chairman of the 1991 show. He was also chairman of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association in 1989.
The elder Thibodeau died in November 2005.
The younger Thibodeau said his next move is to take some time off. He then plans to move into “other opportunities,” which he did not elaborate on.
Ford's consolidation plan
Ford has been encouraging dealership consolidations since 2006. It initially focused on winnowing the number of Ford-brand dealerships in metropolitan areas. The automaker also began to encourage the combination of Ford stores with stand-alone Lincoln Mercury dealerships, something it had blocked in the past. Last year's decision to dump Mercury only reinforced Ford Motor's encouragement of that strategy.
In August, the company made comments that it expects to cut the number of Ford-brand dealerships by nearly 300 stores, to 3,000, along with 175 to 200 of its 500 Lincoln dealerships in metropolitan areas.
The now-standalone Lincoln dealers have been expected to pair with Ford dealers, said Daniell Patterson, a principal specializing in dealership consulting in the Southfield office of UHY Advisors Inc. The Crest-Thibodeau deal is the first in the Detroit area.
But more are expected, Patterson said, especially once Ford begins to demand that the Lincoln dealers renovate stores to meet the company's new standards for Lincoln dealerships.
Said Patterson: “We'll see a handful of consolidations, based on the certain percentage of dealers out there, that, given their age and succession plan, just don't want to spend the extra money.”
Amy Wilson contributed to this report.